One Night at the Jacaranda by Carol Cooper

cover of One Night at the Jacaranda

An assured and impressive debut novel

After a trying day battling with IT problems, I downloaded this book for my Kindle in the hope of finding a bit of escapism and cheer. I picked the right book, and once I started it, I couldn’t put it down, enjoying the easy humour as well as the “will-they, won’t-they” pacy plot.

Seeking Escape from Quiet Desperation

The story recounts the fortunes of a group of men and women who attend a night of speed-dating at the Jacaranda bar. When we first meet them, they all seem to be leading lives of quiet desperation, hoping,but not necessarily believing,that speed-dating will solve their problems. All is not what it seems, and as the tale unfolds, we learn more about the characters, including some surprises (but no plot-spoilers here).

Much More than a Great Beach Read

This book contains all the elements of a good holiday or beach read – humour, love, sex, relationships – but there’s more to it than that. There are also interesting themes about first impressions and ambitions, and interesting incidental detail about different occupations. There’s lots of poignant and touching stuff about parenting, divorce and family life too.

The ending is largely happy, but there are some harsh realities too. By no means a blanket advertisement for speed-dating agencies, it will still be heartening for anyone despairing of finding a partner and may give them the courage to give that approach a try.

Episodic but Flowing

This is a fast-moving story, skilfully woven together to keep the pages turning. Given the episodic nature of the story, jumping from one character to another, it flows extremely well, demonstrating the author’s great sense of timing. The prose is well written, the dialogue natural, convincing and lifelike.

An assured first novel, the author’s background in journalism presumably having honed her writing skills, I highly recommend it.

And if you enjoy this one, you won’t want to miss its sequel, Hampstead Fever – which I’ve reviewed here.

headshot of Carol CooperFind out more about Carol Cooper via her website www.pillsandpillowtalk.com – I especially recommend her excellent blog. 

Hampstead Fever by Carol Cooper

cover of Hampstead Fever

An intelligent romp through modern London society

Like Carol Cooper’s first novel, One Night at the Jacaranda (which I reviewed here), this is a down-to-earth fly-on-the-wall story following the love lives of a group of individuals whose paths first crossed at a speed-dating event.

Skilfully Woven Tapestry

Each chapter focuses on an individual, and chararcters weave in and out of each other’s chapters too. Each character is skilfully and subtly drawn, highly believable and very human, and we see them each working their way, often shakily, towards solving their various problems.

Rewarding but Realistic Outcomes

The various conclusions are heartwarming and rewarding without being unrealistic or sentimental. The author’s medical career naturally shapes her storytelling technique into an episodic, one-to-one style, similar to a GP’s consultation process.

Highly Recommended

I therefore prescribe this book to lift anyone’s spirits, wherever they are on their own dating journey – it will not only entertain but also inspire them to realise that whatever their own problems, with determination and self-knowledge they can solve them and live happily ever after.

headshot of Carol CooperFind out more about Carol Cooper via her website www.pillsandpillowtalk.com – I especially recommend her excellent blog. 

Billy and the Sparkling Socks by Julie Day

Cover of Billy and the Sparkling Socks

An easy way to get an inkling of what it’s like to be a child with Aspergers

I bought this book because I was interested in finding out more about Asperger’s Syndrome in a simple and accessible way. It’s a quick read for an adult, and an appealing read for a child, being set largely at school and at the home of Billy, a young Aspie boy who struggles to find success at school and in his social life, especially compared with his non-Aspie brother.

With a sprinkling of magic in the form of empowering socks that boost his confidence and determination to find and excel in one thing, young Billy conquers his anxieties and finds acceptance at school as a storyteller.

This is a sweet, upbeat story, sensitively told, and explaining effectively how Billy finds it hard to respond to normal social signals, having a code with his mum and his teacher to draw smiley faces, for example, to indicate mood. I imagine that Aspies would find it an encouraging and comforting read, making them feel they’re not alone. It will also make non-Aspie adults and children think more carefully before judging Aspies, and help them better understand their viewpoint.

The cheerful, upbeat cover and the friendly line drawings that scatter the text, provided by illustrator Rachel Lawston, boost the book’s upbeat feel and will also give it the same sort of child appeal as Daisy Meadows’ fairy books – and what more positive emblem could there be than a rainbow?

In short, it’s an easy way to learn about Aspergers for non-Aspies, and an encouraging read for those who are on the spectrum. I gather this is the start of a series, and I hope it helps spread helpful messages about this challenging condition.

To find out more about the author and her work, check out her blog: www.julieaday.blogspot.co.uk

Writing the Town Read by Katharine E Smith

Cover of Writing the Town Read

Comfort reading set mostly in Cornwall

This book just hit the spot for me as an engrossing and interesting but easy read while on holiday. I picked it up for three reasons: I’d enjoyed the author’s previous novel, Looking Past; I fancied the Cornish small-town setting; and I was interested in the notion of the impact of the London 7/7 bombing beyond London itself.

The heroine, Jamie, is likable and pleasant, doing her best to forge a career in a traditionally male-oriented office (the local paper), while also quite naive in some ways, e.g. allowing her boyfriend, about whom she knows very little, to move into her flat. It’s a coming-of-age novel, in a sense, in that she’s growing into her role and gaining confidence in her career and in herself as a person, despite some pretty hard knocks along the way. (Avoiding going into detail here for fear of plot spoilers.)

The supporting characters, from her family and old friends, and even her dog, to her work colleagues, old and new, are clearly defined and an interesting mix, providing useful foils to Jamie along the way.

A Strong Sense of Place

The sense of place, both in Cornwall and in central London, is well established, with the pros and cons, and the contrasts, well considered. It was a brave decision to build the bombing into the plot, while bypassing all the political implications, and the scene in which Jamie has to make an emergency dash to a hospital with her father is particularly moving.

Strangely Comforting

Given the bombing element, it may sound odd if I go on to describe this now as a comfort read, but that’s what it is, with plenty of tension and twists, but also the feeling that it’s all going to turn out ok for Jamie by the end of the book. It also has a sensitive manner about it that I found so appealing in Looking Past.

I’ll definitely read more books by this author, when I want an engaging, thoughtful, gentle reading experience.

For more information about the author and her books, visit her blog:  www.katharineesmith.com

You might also like to read my review of Looking Past.

 

Bad Company by Shaun Ivory

Cover of Bad Company by Shaun Ivory

Third in a compelling series which isn’t over yet…

Having read the first two books in Shaun Ivory’s America Made Me series, I picked this book up knowing it would be a gripping read to while away a very long journey, in a setting completely different to the Wild West – up the north west English coast to Scotland.

I was immediately engrossed in the next round of our hero’s adventures, which this time take place mainly in two settings – the first when he is riding shotgun (so that’s where the phrase came from!) on a Wild West stagecoach service, and the second in a small western town where he succumbs to the charms of an enterprising woman who, for a little while at least, seems to have tamed our Conor.

As with the previous two books in this series, it is a rollicking ride, revealing a huge amount of historical insight into the era just after the American Civil War, with real characters, events and meticulous but never intrusive or distracting detail woven into Conor’s lively narrative.

This series is a departure for me, because although I have long been a fan of stories of the more ladylike kind (!) about American pioneers such as Laura Ingalls Wilder and Cindy Rinaman Marsch’s  Rosette and Blizzard,  I have never found “westerns” and cowboys particularly interesting, either in books or on film, but the pacy narrative, careful balance of action and reflection, and sheer sense of adventure have got me hooked. Looking forward to seeing where Book 4 will take us…

For more information about Shaun Ivory and his books, visit his website: www.shaun-ivory.comYou might also like to read my reviews of some of his other books: